Dubai, Dubai, Dubai. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is that keeps drawing me back, but after six holidays to Dubai, it must be something special. Is it the Dubai hotels, the beaches, the cutting edge Dubai architecture, the first-class service or just the glitz and glamour that oozes out of every pore of this Arabian city in the desert?
Dubai is the city and capital of the emirate of Dubai and is often regarded as the premier destination in the Middle East. There are frequent references to the world’s tallest, most significant, grandest structures indicating just how much Dubai is at the forefront of construction and innovation. Whatever it is that keeps me coming back, I know I like it, and I hope you will too, which is why I have compiled my favourite things to do in Dubai.
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Facts about Dubai
Where is Dubai? There is often confusion as to where Dubai is located. Is Dubai a country? Is it a city within a country? It can get quite confusing. It is located in the United Arab Emirates and is part of the Middle East. Abu Dhabi and Sharjah flank it on either side.
Do I need to cover up in Dubai? No. You will not need to cover up, apart from in religious buildings, but you do need to be respectful of the Muslim culture. It would be disrespectful if you wore skimpy shorts and a crop top to the mall (though tourists do) or you went to dinner in a see-through blouse and mini skirt. No rules govern what tourists wear, but try to dress conservatively.
Arab ladies will wear a burkha, a full head to toe covering and the men wear a thawb, a white gown and a headdress. Of course, a lot of locals also wear western-style clothing.
When should I visit Dubai? The winter months are the most comfortable. In summer the temperatures can rise to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit so it can be very uncomfortable even if you do have a swimming pool to cool off. I have travelled in Feb, April, May, June and December and out of them all I would say April was the most enjoyable. There are always religious festivals and sporting events taking place in Dubai and it is worth checking out when they will fall so that you know which dates are the best time to visit Dubai and when to avoid.
Can I drink alcohol in Dubai? If you are over 21 and then only in hotels and restaurants.
Can I kiss in public? It is advisable not to show displays of affection in general as it is disrespectful towards the Muslim culture.
#1 Afternoon Tea at the Burj Al Arab
Who doesn’t want to see inside Dubai’s 7* luxury hotel, but gone are the days when you could turn up and wander inside to marvel at the extravagant interior. To gain entry into the visually stunning interior, you must be a hotel guest or have a dinner reservation and what better way to experience it than the Burj Al Arab Afternoon Tea held on the 27th floor at the Skyview Bar.
From this height, you will enjoy a panoramic view of the Palm Jumeirah, the famous palm-shaped island constructed in the ocean and maybe even witness a landing on the rooftop helipad!
#2 Burj Khalifa
Opened in 2010, the Burj Khalifa is a stunning feat of engineering and is currently the tallest building in the world, housing the Armani hotel and offices and apartments. Soaring high above Dubai at 830m to the tip, this needle-like structure offers a birds-eye view of what Dubai and the Palm Jumeirah island looks like from the top.
Buy tickets online to avoid the queues and prepare to be whisked up to the 125th floor in the world’s fastest elevator. If you get peckish while up there then the 122nd floor houses the world’s highest restaurant, while on the 148th floor you will find the world’s tallest observation deck.
#3 Dubai Mall
This 12 million sq ft of shopping, dining and entertainment space is like nothing you will have ever experienced. Marvel at the high-end brands including Hermes, Chanel and Louis Vuitton be amazed by the grandeur of the world’s largest shopping mall.
Each tier in the mall showcases a particular product from shoes and ladieswear to homeware and designer brands. The thought process behind this makes shopping a pleasure. There is also a cultural Arabian area within the mall with more traditional shops.
Get ready to be shocked at turning a corner and seeing one of the world’s largest suspended aquariums taking pride of place within the mall. This 10-million litre giant is home to thousands of aquatic animals, comprising over 140 species. Experiences are available online, and I can personally recommend the scuba dive for qualified PADI divers.
Both of my sons have dived here and found it to be an incredible experience, especially with all the shoppers eagerly watching from the other side of the glass! The mall also offers an ice-skating rink, cinema and underwater zoo and walking outside you will have the chance to witness the beauty of the lake and fountains that dominate the outside space.
#4 Dubai Fountains
Created by the company that built the Bellagio fountains in Las Vegas, these giants are a spectacle to behold. Located in the centre of the Burj Khalifa lake they are, not surprisingly, the largest performing fountains in the world.
Activated every thirty minutes and illuminated at night, these musical fountains are one of Dubai’s centrepieces. Evening shows begin at 6 pm and until 10 pm (weekdays) 11 pm (weekends). There are also 2 performances in the daytime, at 1pm – 1.30pm (1.30pm – 2pm on Fridays).
The backdrop of the Burj Khalifa makes the whole performance even more awe-inspiring. I have seen both the Dubai fountains and the Bellagio fountains, and I prefer the ones here. The area around them houses restaurants, so if you are lucky enough to get a seat with a view, then this is a beautiful way to spend your evening.
Alternatively, stand with the crowds after you have spent some time wandering around the mall and soak up the show.
#5 Aquaventure Atlantis
Perched on the Palm Jumeirah, this human-made island housing hotels, restaurants, private homes is also home to the Atlantis resort with its 42-acre waterpark.
Featuring some of the worlds most exciting rides, this is a playground for the young and old alike, after all, who doesn’t want to slide down a transparent tube through a pool of sharks!! Don’t worry, though; they can’t get to you.
A day pass will allow you entry to Aquaventure and The Lost Chambers and can be booked in advance to avoid long queues on the day.
#6 The Lost Chambers Aquarium
The aquarium holds 11 million litres of water, making it slightly larger than the one in the Dubai mall and is home to 65,000 marine fish and mammals. Ranked in the list as one of the world’s largest aquariums it is easy to see why as you wander through the “themed” Lost Chambers that depict the lost civilisation of Atlantis, borne from the oceans.
Experiences are abundant from scuba diving in the aquarium to underwater walking, known as aqua trek and snorkelling.
#7 Wild Wadi Waterpark
Dubai’s original waterpark, Wild Wadi, located in front of the Burj Al Arab offers 30 rides and attractions themed around the tale of Juha, a well-known character from Arabian folklore. This waterpark is smaller than Aquaventure and maybe more of your style.
#8 Dubai Marina
Dubai’s human-made marina is home to al fresco dining, designer chain stores and stretches of beach to relax on. The luxury boats, cars and buildings that line the marina will make your jaw drop, and yacht cruises, jet-skiing or a spot of skydiving will all offer thrilling experiences.
Nighttime is when the marina comes alive with its illuminated skyscrapers and restaurants and bars all vying for your attention.
# 9 Dubai Creek
Step back in time to experience Dubai’s past. For a few dirhams, (local currency) you can hop aboard an abra, (water taxi) and cross the water to Dubai’s old town. Narrow streets spill over with shops, the Gold Souk, Spice Souk (a souk is a marketplace) and food stalls all tempt you with their wares.
In the Gold Souk, there is an estimated 10 tons of gold in 300 shops. Don’t forget to haggle, it is part of the experience, and the shopkeepers expect you to have a go.
#10 Dubai Creek Dinner Cruise
If you are feeling romantic or celebrating a special occasion, consider booking a 2.5hr dinner cruise along the Dubai creek with Bateaux Dubai. Take in views of historic Dubai through the glass-enclosed interior while enjoying gourmet cuisine aboard this luxury trip.
#11 Abu Dhabi
Visitors often get confused believing that Dubai and Abu Dhabi are the same places – they are not. Only a 90 minute drive away, Abu Dhabi is a perfect place for a day trip from Dubai. With the Grand Mosque, Ferrari World and Yas Water World being some of the most popular things to do in Abu Dhabi, the sister state of Dubai is worth a visit. More information is on my blog, five incredible things to do in Abu Dhabi.
The easiest way to see the sights of Abu Dhabi is on an organised tour from Dubai.
If you want to combine a holiday to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, why not do as I did and stay at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel in Dubai and then the Conrad Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi? This way, you get to experience two different parts of the United Arab Emirates.
#12 Desert Safari Dubai Experience
There are many companies offering desert experiences from dinners and dune bashing to camel rides and sandboarding, something for all requirements. It is an excellent way to escape the hustle and bustle of Dubai for the peace and tranquillity of the desert.
If you have never been to a desert, it will be a real eye-opener, especially when you realise that only 30 years ago, this was how most of the country of Dubai looked.
You can also choose to fully immerse yourself and stay a few nights in a desert resort such as Bab Al Shams Desert Resort, a one hour drive from Dubai and the Anantara Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort, a 3-hour drive from Dubai. I have spent a few nights at both of them and would recommend the experience.
#13 Dubai Miracle Garden
If you love flowers and plants, then this will need to be on your list of top attractions to visit. Occupying over 72,000 sq metres, the Dubai Miracle Garden is one of the most beautiful flower gardens in the world, featuring over 50 million flowers shaped into all manner of structures from aeroplanes to teddy bears! It is only open from mid-November to mid-May due to the heat being too intense for the flowers during the rest of the year but is a spectacular sight to see.
The Dubai butterfly garden is located next door and is the world’s largest, featuring 15,000 butterflies of around 50 different species! It is an indoor garden which has ten climate-controlled domes that are the butterflies’ habitat and is open all year round.
#14 Dubai Frame
A new addition to the Dubai skyline, this 150m gold frame stands as proud as any of the other structures in Dubai. It houses a museum that shows the growth of Dubai from a fishing village to one of the wealthiest cities in the world. Online tickets can be bought in advance and also include a half-day city tour if you are short on time.
Panoramic views of Dubai’s sprawling metropolis will be visible from the Dubai Frame. Deira, the older part of Dubai can be viewed from one side while the skyscrapers of Bar Dubai, the newer part of the city, can be seen from the other. The visible amount of cranes on the skyline indicate that Dubai has not yet finished its transformation.
Where should I stay when in Dubai? I always stay at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, located in front of the Burj Al Arab. The standards are first class, and you can use the amenities of the adjacent Jumeirah properties. In 2018 the hotel was closed for a complete renovation, so I look forward to returning to see the improvements.
Where should I stay in the desert? I have stayed at both Babs Al Sham Desert Resort, a one hour drive from Dubai and the Anantara Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort, a 3-hour drive from Dubai. They are both beautiful, authentic and give you a taste of life in the desert.